Voting System

Cambridge SU election counts are overseen by the Democracy Committee.


How to vote


We use a system called Single Transferable Vote to count all elections. The definitive guide to the system as we implement it is How to conduct an election by the Single Transferable Vote, 3rd Ed, published by the Electoral Reform Society (1997). This is freely available online. The text of the below explanation also leans heavily on the Electoral Reform Society.

For an easy to watch explainer of the principles of STV, take a look at this (very sweet) video explaining the system in the context of elections in the Republic of Ireland, which are held using the same system.

STV Counts

STV for elections in which there are multiple places to be won is a form of proportional representation, where the outcome divides places in proportion to the preferences of voters. The same methodology can also be applied to elections with a single place to be won, where it is generally called the Alternative Vote system.

Voters rank their preferences on the ballot between the candidates and RON (see below). They can rank as many or as few candidates as they like.

To get elected, a candidate needs a set amount of votes, known as the quota. The people counting the votes work out the quota based on the number of vacancies and the number of votes cast.

Each voter has one vote. Once the counting has finished, any candidate who has more first preference votes than the quota is elected. But, rather than ignore extra or surplus votes a candidate received after the amount they need to win, these votes move to each voter’s second preference candidate.

If no one reaches the quota, then the least popular candidate in removed. People who voted for them have their votes moved to their second favourite candidate. This process continues until every vacancy is filled.


Re-Open Nominations

There is also an additional candidate on the ballot in every election the SU runs – re-open nominations. If Re-Open Nominations is elected, no more candidates are elected. Nominations for any remaining places are then re-opened, and the election is run again.


Gender Quotas

NUS require that 50% (rounded down) of the delegates we send to NUS National Conference define as having womanhood as part of their identity. There are a number of ways this could be implemented with STV, but the Democracy Committee has resolved that the below method is the fairest implementation of the principles of STV with the gender quota.

As we send 7 delegates to National Conference, 3 must define as women.

Elections are conducted as per the rules of STV (as above) with two additional rules:

  1. If excluding a woman candidate would mean there are less than 3 remaining women, they are passed over and the candidate with the next lowest number of votes is excluded.
  2. If at any point candidates who do not define as women have won 4 places, all remaining candidates who do not self-define as women are excluded and then the count proceeds as normal.